For the four weeks leading up to and going beyond Easter, we’re looking at the life of Peter. Because he’s so often at the center of both the brightest and darkest moments in the Gospels, he has always been a source of hope and inspiration for those endeavoring to follow Jesus.
The word “miracle” is somewhat overworked these days.
We speak of miracle drugs, miraculous fourth quarter comebacks, the miracle of finding a parking space right in front of the store, and Miracle Max from The Princess Bride.
When it comes to the possibility of God breaking into the natural order with supernatural power, however, many of us are reluctant to use the “M” word. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never had a firsthand experience of something truly miraculous.
A few years ago we recounted the story of Jim Loder, a man who was driving with his family on a trip. Jim pulled over to help a woman who was struggling to change a flat tire. He was lying under her car when another vehicle swerved onto the shoulder and slammed into its rear bumper. The jack went flying and the car collapsed onto Loder’s chest, crushing it. Five of his ribs snapped and blood began to fill his left lung. The minutes that followed would be critical to his survival.
His wife, barely five feet tall, placed her hands on the bumper of the car and prayed, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and lifted the car off his chest so he could be dragged out. Weeks later she learned that she had fractured a vertebra in the effort.
Loder was in a state of shock when he arrived at the hospital. Doctors prepared for emergency surgery. His chances were iffy.
Suddenly, without warning, Loder’s skin changed from gray to pink. The wounds in his chest were healed. He looked up at the gathered surgical team, who never did connect him to the oxygen, and led them in singing Fairest Lord Jesus. Loder later discovered that this was the precise moment that his father-in-law, who was a pastor, had asked his congregation to begin praying.
It’s hard not to be jaded by such stories. So many turn out to be urban legends, endlessly forwarded on the internet or recited at somebody’s church picnic.
But this one’s a little different. The man we’re talking about is the late Professor James Loder of Princeton Theological Seminary. His body wasn’t the only thing restored that day. So was his heart. By his own admission, Loder’s notion of God was fuzzy prior to the accident. But afterwards Jesus became a living and accessible presence. Loder’s heart grew so tender that he became known at Princeton as “the weeping professor.”
The ministry of Jesus, as reported in the four Gospels, is punctuated by miraculous healings. On three occasions Jesus even raises the dead.
Peter and his fellow disciples are there to see it all happen. They’re likewise present when Jesus makes it clear that his apprentices would one day experience God’s healing power working through their own touch. In the opening chapters of the book of Acts – within mere days of Jesus’ ascension – that prediction begins to come true.
One afternoon, as Peter and John are heading to the Temple for a time of prayer, they come upon a beggar who’s been crippled from birth. He customarily sits at the Beautiful Gate. The beggar looks up at them expectantly, hoping for a handout. But on this particular day he receives more than he has ever dared to ask.
“I don’t have a nickel to my name,” Peter says, “but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” With that, Peter grabs him by the right hand and pulls him up. His feet and ankles instantly become firm. He can walk! (Acts 3:6-8)
The beggar is overwhelmed. He begins to dance. A crowd of onlookers is amazed. They begin to ask questions about Jesus. But the religious elites of first century Jerusalem feel threatened. True to form, whenever the Lord’s Prayer is answered – when God’s kingdom comes right here and right now, and his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven – some people begin to push back.
The authorities trot out their standard weapons. They stare down Peter and John and say, “We are ordering you to stop spreading this so-called Good News. If you don’t stop, we have power over you. We can shame you. We can take your property. We can imprison you. We can even execute you.” Since these threats are typically effective, they’re jolted when Peter and John fail to do what they are supposed to do. They don’t crumble emotionally.
Instead, Peter announces in Acts 4:12 that the disciples are not intimidated. They have thrown in their lots with Jesus. He declares, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved.”
The next verse is an eye-opener: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John, and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” In verses 19 and 20, Peter and John add the clincher: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Now we’ve come full circle in our study of the Bible’s stories about Peter.
Who was Peter when Jesus originally called him to “learn how to fish for people”? He was an unschooled, ordinary man. Who is he now? He is still an unschooled, ordinary man. But the religious authorities have identified what makes all the difference: “They took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Peter had been with Jesus.
Even though he had gotten less-than-perfect grades in Jesus’ school of life – and outright flunked a handful of crucial spiritual tests – Peter is now leading the way in the first days of the Church.
Is it likely that any one of us will personally experience an actual miracle?
That’s God’s business. But when we look back from the next world and finally grasp how God has always been at work in life’s smallest details, we’ll no doubt be amazed at the miracles we somehow overlooked.
In the meantime, our marching orders are clear. We’re called to do what Peter did.
Let’s choose to be with Jesus.